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Christians object to serving in Israel's army

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Christians object to army service in IsraelThe leaders of Israel's large Palestinian minority are stepping up opposition to Israeli government plans to recruit Christians into the military with a specially convened congress on Friday.

The congress, due to be held in the Galilee town of Sakhnin, will include all the minority's political factions. It follows an announcement in April from the Israeli Defence Forces that all Christians would receive call-up papers on graduating from high school. An initial batch of 800 papers is due to be issued in the coming weeks.

"The congress will make clear that there is a national consensus against serving in the military and the government has crossed a red line," said Nadim Nashef, director of Baladna, a youth movement that has led opposition to the government drive.

The Israeli military has insisted that the notices will be treated as an "invitation", but Nashef said it was widely assumed that Israel intended to impose a compulsory draft at a later stage. Unlike Israeli Jews, most of Israel's 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, comprising a fifth of the country's population, have been exempted from conscription since the state's establishment more than six decades ago. Many in the minority fear the change in official policy is intended to fuel tensions with their Muslim compatriots, as part of a "divide and rule" policy.

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